Tag Archives: David Tennant

Camp David

RICHARD II

Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 24th October, 2013

 

Hot on the heels of Ben Whishaw’s BAFTA-winning portrayal comes another favourite actor of mine in the title role of Richard II. A big name draw, David Tennant improves on his Hamlet (a characterisation I thought was The Doctor by another name) with a performance that switches from regal reserve to petulant camp and back again.  In a world of macho men in leather and shining armour, Tennant’s Richard saunters around in beautiful gowns, with his crown on his wrist like a bracelet.  With his hair extensions and sharp features, he is an off-duty drag queen or an old school rock star.  The effeminacy and the bitchiness energise a sometimes languid king.  It is a captivating performance.

The whole production is redolent with delicate beauty.  Projections of pillars and vaulted ceilings capture both the solidity and airiness of a cathedral.  Designer Stephen Brimson Lewis keeps scenery to a minimum, suggesting locations, complimented by Tim Mitchell’s lighting.  Richard’s throne flies in and out on a gantry, suggesting the monarch’s link to divinity – a bone of contention in the play.  The visuals are supported by beautiful music performed live by sopranos (the singers not the organised criminals) and trumpeters.  Gregory Doran’s production has no problem in engaging the eye and the ear, but what of the emotions and the intellect?

Oliver Ford Davies as York brings humour and heart.  Scenes with his wife (Marty Cruickshank) bring comic relief from all the politicking and macho posturing.  Michael Pennington’s John of Gaunt masterfully handles the play’s greatest hit, the ‘sceptre’d isle’ speech, and Nigel Lindsay’s meaty Bolingbroke makes an effective contrast to Tennant’s light-in-the-loafers king.

For me the most compelling on-stage presence is Oliver Rix as Aumerle.  Even in scenes where he has little to say, he is there, intense without drawing focus from the speakers.  His scenes with Tennant are the highlights.  Upset by Richard’s decision to hand over his crown, Aumerle is comforted by the king in a moment that is more tender than it is homoerotic.

When Richard is set upon by assailants in his dungeon, there is too much of the action hero in his self-defence.  The effete king reveals himself to be something of a medieval martial arts expert in a moment that is incongruous with the rest of the characterisation.  Yes, Richard would fight for his life, but not in such an obviously choreographed manner.  When the fatal blow is struck, it is a moment of shock and surprise – it’s a credit to the schoolgirls in this matinee audience that they gasped at this point rather than at Richard and Aumerle’s kiss.

The play begins and ends with a coffin centre-stage, reminding us of the cycle of kingship: one must die so the next can take over. With its projections and lighting effects, it is a production of surfaces.  We don’t really get to grips with the rights and wrongs of who should be on the throne and how he should behave.  Richard seizes what isn’t his to raise funds, which leads to rebellion.  Opposers of the Royal Mail and NHS privatisations, take note!

Who's a pretty boy, then? Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II) Photo by Kwame Lestrade

Who’s a pretty boy, then? Oliver Ford Davies (Duke of York), Nigel Lindsay (Bolingbroke), David Tennant (Richard II)
Photo by Kwame Lestrade

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A Bit of A Do

Much Ado About Nothing

Wyndham’s Theatre, London, Thursday 18th August, 2011

 

The quintessential romantic comedy gets a 1980s update and a Gibraltar setting for this vibrant and hilarious production, currently packing them in at the Wyndham’s.  Of course the two stars must be a huge attraction for ticket buyers but I like to think that Shakespeare’s funniest and most delightful comedy has enough appeal in its own right.

 

The two stars are David The Doctor Tennant and his erstwhile companion Catherine “Donna Noble” Tate.  What a nerdgasm that is, for Doctor Who fans to see this pair reunited and finally doing what the Doctor and Donna never did – getting off with each other.  The chemistry between these two actors is almost palpable, and the “merry war” of wits between their characters is a verbal fireworks display of point-scoring and one-upmanship.   The modern (1980s is not that far back in my view, thank you very much) setting works very well, given the slangy, modern inflection with which the actors deliver the sparkling dialogue.  Tennant lends Benedick his native Scots accent and within Tate’s Beatrice there are traces of her repertoire of comic characters – for example, when quoting the Devil, she gives Old Nick the scowl and tones of her Gran.  All of this is very fan-pleasing and makes for an interesting take on Shakespeare’s most entertaining female character.  This Beatrice is stylish and gregarious, wearing a mask of confidence made of put-downs and wise cracks.  Tate adds some touches of sublime physical comedy, ranging from the broad flailing around in the air on the end of a decorator’s pulley (you had to be there!) to removing the underwear from her bum in a moment of unladylike behaviour.  The performance is not without its subtlety.  Shakespeare allows  the briefest glimpse into a suggested past liaison between Beatrice and Benedick, and Tate plays the moment perfectly.  We fall in love with this wonderful woman.  She is more than matched by Tennant’s Benedick, the dashing, swaggering soldier, the self-proclaimed eternal bachelor.  Tennant proves his own skills at physical comedy. There’s a wonderful moment involving a tray of paint (trust me) and I think he has topped his Hamlet of a couple of years ago – I felt his Danish prince had too much of the Time Lord about him but this Benedick retains the Doctor’s energy  without merely translating the Doctor to another time and another place.

 

The set, with its huge revolve and towering pillars, threatens to dwarf the actors, especially from my perch in the Grand Circle, but I quickly became accustomed to its graceful transitions, and the gliding monolithic columns and gigantic slatted blinds serve the action well, especially in the comic, eavesdropping scenes.  One scene in a nightclub has just a little too much dry ice but on the whole, I approve of this  relocation.

 

Dogberry, the leader of the Watch, is a tricky character to pull off.  A verbose buffoon whose every other word is a malapropism (long before Mrs Malaprop ever graced the stage, bless her) in this production he is presented as a gung ho Territorial Army type, linguistically out of his depth in this world of flying wit and word play.  I warmed to him but his sidekick, Verges, was under-used, which was a pity.  The gender realignment of Leonato’s brother Antonio into wife Imogen was an interesting move, but she didn’t really put across the right amount of anger and impotent outrage in the face of  the “scambling, out-facing , fashion-monging boys” who have torn her family apart.

 

Overall though, the star for me is William Shakespeare.  The play is a dazzling, endearing box of delights with just enough bitter sweetness and humanity to be poignant without killing the buzz.  The jokes and the banter still work.  The plot, both a contrivance and a confection, still permits moments of high drama.  Leonato’s spurning of his scandalised daughter is heart-wrenching on the page and in performance.

 

This production is a party, complete with 80s retreads of Shakespearean songs, to which the audience is invited.  We are dazzled, delighted, moved and rewarded with a reminder that to be human and share the company of other humans is life’s greatest gift.   Thoroughly life-affirming theatre.